Hinnebusch/The Dominicans: A Short History/Chapter IX

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The Dominicans: A Short History
William A. Hinnebusch, O.P.
 
  


Contents

CHAPTER IX: THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY UNTIL 1789

The seventeenth century merged into the eighteenth as imperceptibly as summer blends into autumn. The century reaped what the 1600's had sown and, at its end, it reaped a hurricane. The French Revolution broke over Europe with hurricane force in 1789 and swept away the Old Regime-an order of society that was hoary with age and full of dry rot. The Dominican Order found the transition into autumn just as easy. Its master general, Antoninus Cloche, who had held the reins since 1686, ushered it peacefully into the new century. He could hardly have suspected, when he died an old man of ninety-two in 1720, that the Order, glorious like the monarchy of Louis XIV, would be weak, broken, and lying prostrate when his fifth, eighteenth-century successor, Balthasar Quinones, died in 1798. Between the two came Augustine Pipia, Thomas Ripon, ,Antoninus Bremond, and John Thomas Boxadors. Pipia took office in 1721, became cardinal in 1724, and relinquished his post in 1725. The term of Bremond lasted seven years but those of Ripoll (1725-1747), Boxadors (1756-1777), and Quinones filled sixty-five. It was the unhappy lot of Quinones to witness the blows that fell after 1790.


In governing, these generals had little assistance from the general chapter. Apart from the meeting called by Cloche in 1705, it assembled during this century only to elect a new master. The Order was no longer accustomed to representative government on its highest level. Even if this had not been so, prevailing autocracy in the political order and the wars of the ruling houses stood in the way of holding chapters. Dominican representative government functioned only on the provincial level. Provincial chapters continued to meet every four years. After the general chapter of 1777, another meeting was not held until 1832, fifty-five years later.


The Holy See continued its close supervision of the Order. After creating Master General Pipia a cardinal, Benedict XIII, one of the Order's sons, designated the master of the sacred palace, Angelus William Molo, to preside over the chapter called to choose a successor in 1725. He also sent along a program of action. In 1756, Benedict XIV first insisted that the chapter be held in Bologna to honor St. Dominic but then decided to preside over the election and transferred it to Rome. Boxadors, the master elected on that occasion, found himself thwarted two years later when Clement XIII, who succeeded Benedict, obliged him to cancel a chapter he had summoned to meet at Barcelona in 1759. Pius VI was present when Quinones was elected in 1777. Before leaving the Casanate Library, where the chapter was meeting, he appointed Cardinal Boxadors to preside over its remaining sessions and granted him the right to vote.


The papal concern for the well-being of the Order did not stop short at the level of government but probed deeply into Dominican life. Benedict XIII's instructions to the 1725 chapter focused on many details that reveal a departure from ancient discipline, a development probably due as much to a growing difficulty in adhering to customs of an age long past as to a decline in religious spirit. He called for faithful attendance in choir, more fidelity to the midnight office, at least on the part of novices, and uniformity in clothing and diet. His emphasis on these points indicates the hardships that midnight matins, perpetual abstinence, and the long fast from September 14th to Easter were causing in a more affluent age than the medieval. More significant was Benedict's warning not to ape the fashions and diet of the day-an important admonition, considering the love of splendor and display that characterized Baroque life and art. Benedict put his finger on a more serious defect when he called for a greater readiness to do the works of the ministry and a greater willingness to hear the confessions of the faithful. He gives us reason to suspect that the friars were less than eager to tend to the ministry. Two years later the Pope's love for the Order again surfaced when he confirmed its ancient privileges and granted new ones. His concessions were so extensive that his successor had to revoke some of them because they infringed on the rights of others.


The Provinces

The map of the provinces continued to become more complicated through the establishment of new provinces and congregations. The Order went into the century with forty-five provinces and left it with fifty-one. The additions came not by an increase of territory but by the division of existing areas. The weakness of the Hungarian province led to the joining of its priories to those of Austria in 1702 in a new Austro-Hungarian province-an entity that reflected the political union of the two countries under Habsburg rule. The Congregation of San Marco, which cherished a strong memory of Savonarola, achieved provincial status in 1705. The Dominicans of Sardinia, established as an independent congregation of 1615, became a province in 1706, as did the priories of Upper Germany in 1709. The distances and difficulties of travel in the New World induced the Order to carve the province of Argentina from that of Chile in 1724. The Observant congregations of Santa Maria delta Sanità and San Marco dei Cavoti in the Kingdom of Naples were united as a province in 1725, a union soon dissolved because of disagreement among the friars. The Galician priories became a province in 1782 following the first partition of Poland, which brought that region under Austrian dominion. The Silesian priories, part of the Polish province, were erected into an autonomous congregation in 1754. Several other congregations were carved from existing provinces. The two pigmy congregations created in the French Antilles in 1706 and 1721 furnish an extreme example of the lengths to which the fission process could be carried.


The Nuns and Sisters

The nuns of the Order founded many new monasteries during the seventeenth century, especially in Spain. For the first time in Dominican history, they entered Ireland, founding monasteries in Dublin, Waterford, and Drogheda. In New Spain they erected monasteries in Buenos Aires, Guadalajara, and Pueblo. Toward the end of the 1700's, the German province had fourteen monasteries and Upper Germany, thirty-five. In France, the Commission of Regulars forced the closing of some monasteries. Sensitive to current developments, the nuns, notably Sr. Cecilia Mayor and Sr. Maria Columba Weigl, undertook works of expiation to counteract the rationalistic denial of the supernatural order. Following an apparition of St. Dominic, accorded her in 1730, Sr. Maria Columba experienced the Passion every Friday, receiving the stigmata and wounding with a lance.


The sisters of the Third Order established additional convents. Two groups of sisters went as missionaries to the Island of Martinique. In 1684, Mother Maria Poussepin, aided by Fr. Mespolité of the Parisian general novitiate, founded the still flourishing Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Presentation for the exercise of the corporal works of mercy. It now has a vice-province in the United States and four provinces in South America.


The Liturgy

The Dominican liturgy was enriched by the addition of the feast of the newly canonized Agnes of Montepulciano n 1729 and the feast of the Holy Rosary in 1757. The introduction of part singing and instrumental music into liturgical services may be an illustration of what Benedict XIII had in mind when he spoke against accepting the fashions of the age. Whether it was a distortion of values to look for musical ability in those applying for admission to a monastery, as was true at St. Catherine's in Au gsburg and elsewhere, is for others to judge. St. Catherine's did not search in vain. On the feast of its patroness in 1719, two postulants blew the trumpet and the waldhorn for the first time during services. One of them was still blowing her horn thirty-five years later.


The Interference of the Secular State

The entrance of the secular government into the internal affairs of religious Orders was less benign than that of the popes. It became more virulent as the century grew older. The Orders were caught in the web that entangled the Church itself. Absolutism was now the fashion. The "enlightened" kings, captivated by the philosophy of Rationalism, became "benevolent despots" knowing what was best for their subjects without asking them. Rationalism's denial of the supernatural order and its scorn of the religious life underline the threat to Christianity that was implicit in the stance of these kings.


When the Bourbons ascended to the Spanish throne in 1701, the Gallicanism of France spread throughout Spain and its dominions, in Naples, Upper Italy, and the New World. Germany and Austria developed their own varieties of Gallicanism. German Febronianism was a radical attack on papal supremacy and advocated autonomous national churches under a diluted papal presidency. The Austrian program, set up under Joseph II, was called Josephinism. He established state sovereignty aver the churches, claimed ecclesiastical jurisdiction, instituted arbitrary reforms, and suppressed many church establishments and religious houses. However, many of his social and administrative reforms and those of other "benevolent despots" were long overdue.


Trouble for the Order began in France during the 1760's, when Raymond Garalon, provincial of the Province of Occitania, challenged the right of the master general to undertake certain measures without the King's consent. Busy with his visitation in Spain, Boxadors entrusted the defense of the Order's right to Father La Berthonie, an outstanding theologian. Though the defense was successful, more serious problems arose for all the religious Orders. When twenty-eight Benedictines of the Congregation of St. Maur petitioned King Louis XV to do away with their habit and Rule, the general assembly of the clergy asked Louis in 1765 to petition the Holy See for the reform of the Religious Orders. Instead, the King created the Commission of Regulars under the presidency of Lemanie Brienne, the liberal Archbishop of Toulouse. Three years later the Commission issued its directives for Religious. It raised the age of profession, suppressed religious houses with fewer than nine members, permitted only one house of any particular Order in any city, and commanded the Orders to write national Constitutions for themselves. The Dominicans were forced to comply in 1777. A national chapter of thirty-two prominent friars reluctantly assembled, under the presidency of two bishops appointed by the King, to fashion a Constitution. When the French ambassador in Rome presented their finished product to Boxadors, he flatly refused to acknowledge or approve it. He remained adamant even when the King pressed for approval, and the Provincial of Toulouse buttonholed the assistant of the master, begging him to urge Boxadors to relent.


The zeal with which the Commission of Regulars went to work diminished vocations and lowered the number of religious in France. Their measures accelerated a trend that had begun as early as 1710. From 1750 to 1790, membership in the Dominican Order declined by a third. In 1767 the prior of the Novitiate General reported to Boxadors that three of the French provinces combined had but three novices.


Joseph II, co-Regent with his mother, Marie Theresa, began to pursue Gallican policies in the hereditary dominions of the Habsburgs in 1765. He promulgated comprehensive regulations which forbade recourse to Rome without imperial permission, and publication of pastorals and other documents without the approval of the royal censor. He also suppressed contemplative Orders and monasteries and Third Orders. The number of monasteries in Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia dropped from 915 to 318. Joseph closed houses of studies and seminaries and substituted several general seminaries staffed by liberal professors. He seized church property, putting the assets into a general fund for the support of religion. His liturgical and devotional directives prohibited ancient devotions such as the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary, and even prescribed the number of candles to be burned during services. Not for nothing has Joseph been called the "Sacristan Emperor". The link thus broken with Rome was not completely reforged until 1852. The prince-bishops of Germany, especially the Archbishop of Cologne, Joseph's brother, Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, another brother, the Republic of Venice, and kings in Spain, Sardinia, and Naples aped the Emperor. Fortunate the Orders that escaped the fate of the Jesuits, suppressed in 1773 by Clement XIV under intolerable pressure from the "enlightened despots".


Philip Hughes closed his description of these events with this paragraph: "It is not hard to understand the French historian who writes: `God now saved the Church by sending the French Revolution to destroy princely absolutism.' Certainly by 1790, outside the States of the Church and the new United States of America, there was not a single country in the world where the Catholic religion was free to live its own life fully, and not a single Catholic country where there seemed any prospect but of further enslavement and gradual emasculation."


Studies

The multiple doctrinal theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries led the masters general to insist on fidelity to Thomism and to take strong measures to prevent the circulation of the books of two Dominicans, Joseph de Vita of Palermo and Sebastian Knippenberg of Cologne, who departed from it. Cloche, whose 1687 curriculum of studies had prescribed a complete covering of the Summa theologiae of Thomas during the theology course, continued to demand that every friar be thoroughly grounded in Thomistic doctrine. The 1706 general chapter discouraged the further introduction of the so-called "material" courses, based on manuals of theology rather than the Summa. The eighteenth-century chapters persisted in stressing the importance of Scriptural and linguistic studies and required professors of theology to introduce into their lectures material related to church history, canon law, and patristics. They were expected to ground their students in current controversies and drill them in the refutation of major heresies.


At his election in 1721, Pipia laid down detailed guidelines for safeguarding and spreading the doctrine of Thomas. A quarter of a century later, in 1757, Boxadors penned a vigorous encyclical on the study of Thomism and required that it be read at table every year as a perpetual reminder of the Order's mission to penetrate, preach, and develop a deeper understanding of the data of Revelation through the application of the principles and method of Thomas. Apparently the sympathy some French Dominicans were showing for Gallicanism and Jansenism spurred him to this action. Already toward the end of the previous century, Noel Alexander, the most prominent Dominican theologian in France, had encouraged these deviations by throwing the weight of his reputation on the side of both sets of errors. In 1684 Innocent XI had placed his Ecclesiastical History, a work highly regarded at the time for its critical acumen, on the Index of Forbidden Books because of its author's Gallicanism. Alexander submitted fully to the judgment of the Holy See and added clarifications of his text in the 1699 edition. After the editor of the 1734 edition added paragraphs and dissertations correcting the work's most offensive statements, Benedict XIV lifted the censure for reading it but did not remove it from the Index. During the controversy provoked by the celebrated "Case of Conscience," condemned by Clement XI in 1705, Alexander joined thirty-nine other doctors of the Sorbonne in holding that "respectful silence" was permissible in the face of doctrinal condemnation made by the Church. He also joined the Appelants who appealed to a general council against the Unigenitus Dei Filius.


In the bull, published in 1713, Clement XI had made a further attempt to put the Jansenist doctrines to rest by condemning the Moral Reflections on the New Testament, written by Pasquier Quesnel, an Oratorian. Many Dominicans were misled by the Thomistic terminology in which Quesnel clothed some of his errors and joined the Appelants. Others became outright Jansenists. In a determined attempt to cope with those who refused to accept the Unigenitus, Ripoll had to deal severely with the Dominicans of Rodez, especially Father Viou. Ripon expelled him from the Order in 1744 for repeated acts of disobedience.


The Holy See encouraged the efforts of the masters general to uphold Thomism. During the first year of his pontificate (1724) , Benedict XIII issued his Demissas preces, a bull calling on the Order to keep alive and develop its Thomistic heritage. He commented on the leading theses of Thomism, especially those concerning grace and its relationship to free will. His letter to the chapter that convened the following year for the election of a new master emphasized the importance of unity in doctrine. Two years later, his apostolic Constitution, Pretiosus, granted the general houses of study the right to confer theological degrees on students who were not members of the Order as well as on Dominicans.


An important adjunct to Thomistic studies was Cardinal Jerome Casanate's magnificent bequest to the Order in 1700. In his will he bequeathed his rich personal collection of more than 25,000 volumes and made ample provision for its maintenance and the construction of a building at the Minerva to house it. He also endowed two chairs of Thomistic theology and a college of six theologians. The professors who occupied the chairs were to hold daily classes in the library, and the theologians were to assemble weekly to discuss current questions and solve problems submitted to them. They were to be drawn from the various provinces and their task was to defend the truth. The staff of the library consisted of two fathers and three cooperator brothers. The Casanate Library, which the Cardinal stipulated must be open to the public, ranks next to the Vatican among the libraries of Rome. It now has more than 205,000 books and 4,000 manuscripts. The Italian government took it over when it confiscated other ecclesiastical property after 1870. The last Dominican librarians left it in 1884.


Not only the Order's administration but also its scholars directed attention to prevailing controversies. In response to the philosophy of the Enlightenment, Salvatore Roselli published his multivolumed Philosophical Summa. Charles Louis Richard defended the religious life, the fact of Revelation, the sacredness of marriage, the authority of the Holy See, and the holding of ecclesiastical possessions against Voltaire, a bitter enemy of the Church. Richard also supervised the publication of the Dictionnaire universel des sciences sacrées, a work prepared by a staff of collaborators, to counteract the famed reference work of the Encyclopedists. The Dictionnaire was the forerunner of the later theological dictionaries. Before the troops of the French Revolution terminated his productive scholarly career with a bullet at Mons, Belgium, in 1694, Richard also published a series of volumes on the general councils of the Church. Other Dominicans who wrote against Rationalism were Valsecchi, Brunquell, and Jost. Thomas Mamachi wrote against Febronius, whose book did much to undermine papal authority in Germany.


Interest in the history of the Order developed during the seventeenth century through the encouragement of the general chapters and the publications of several writers. The most important fruit of this activity was the Scriptores ordinis Praedicatorum, published in 1719 and 1721. Begun by James Quétif and completed by James Échard, it is "an outstanding catalog of authors" and is still indispensable. "The most distinguished documentary collection of the eighteenth century" was the Bullarium ordinis praedicatorum. Thomas Ripon gathered the bulls but was elected master before he could publish them. This was done by Thomas Bremond from 1729 to 1740. After his election to the generalship, Bremond assembled a team of historians to search out and publish other documents pertaining to Dominican history. Though this first historical institute of the Order ended at the French Revolution and published little beyond the Annales of Mamachi, it placed historians forever in its debt by collecting a great number of documents for the Order's archives. Another work of special merit is the multi-volumed but incomplete Année Dominicaine, written by Thomas Souèges, which records the lives of eminent and saintly Dominicans. Other scholars published documents of particular priories or provinces -- Percin those of the Toulouse priory, Bernard de Jonge those of Belgium, and O'Heyne and Thomas de Burgo those of Ireland. A work of general character was the Istoria ecclesiastics of Joseph Augustine Orsi, a controversialist, theologian, and historian of high merit. He wrote it to counteract the Gallican tendencies of Claude Fleury's Histoire ecclésiastique. Philip Angelus Bucchetti continued Orsi's History, which numbered fifty volumes in the Roman edition of 1883.


In a century of great literary figures, Nicholas Coeffeteau ranked as one of the creators of French prose.


In the sacred sciences, Daniel Concina continued his twentyfive-year campaign against the laxity of the probabilists. His opposition often went to the opposite extreme of rigorism. Martin Wigant also wrote on moral theology. Thomistic commentators were Joseph Riedel, Willibald Mohrenwalter, and Renée Billuart. The nineteen-volumed commentary of the last author on the Summa of St. Thomas remained a useful aid to theological study in Dominican houses of studies into the twentieth century. Andrew Augustine Krazer dedicated himself to liturgical research and writing.


The Ministry

A number of outstanding preachers implemented the Order's preaching mission during the eighteenth century, notably Bl. Francis Posadas in Andalusia, Peter Ulloa in Spain, America, and the Canary Islands; Nicholas Riccardi, nicknamed Padre Mostro, Gregory Rocco, Daniel Concina in Italy, and Nicholas Coeffeteau in France. The German and Austrian Dominicans also boasted eminent preachers. The German Dominicans had established themselves in Berlin in 1681 to minister to Catholic workers who had taken employment in the munitions factory established by King Frederick William in Potsdam. They now extended this ministry to other mission stations in Prussia and acted as chaplains to Catholic soldiers serving in the Prussian foreign legion.


On the foreign missions Dominicans of the Roman province labored in Pera (Constantinople) , Kurdistan, and Persia. The provinces of Latin America continued the local ministries that had been their domain since their foundation. The Holy Rosary province of the Philippines endured bitter persecution in Vietnam on several occasions during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and gave the Church large groups of martyrs. Its missioners were persecuted in China from 1745 to 1748 and during 1837 and 1838.


The Dominicans of Ireland, England, and Holland still worked under conditions resembling those of foreign-mission countries. Because the Protestant attempt to wipe out Catholicism in the British Isles had failed, and anti-Catholic bias had diminished, it was clear during the eighteenth century that the provinces of England and Ireland would survive. The Irish Dominicans had the better hope for the future. Though English Dominicans were functioning as a congregation without full provincial rights, the leadership of Thomas Howard had infused them with new life. His establishment of a house of studies in Louvain in 1697 held out the prospect of a return to full provincial status. The Dominicans of Holland, where the persecution had never taken the extreme forms it had in the British Isles, maintained its mission status and undertook to direct and conduct the seminary Bishop Cools, a Dominican, had founded -- Roermund.


Conclusion

The segment of Dominican history that began about 1500 closed with the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. Except for the centralization that marked the Order's government from 1650, Dominican life continued during it substantially as it had for centuries. In the ministry, however, emphasis had shifted from preaching to the intellectual apostolate, which was colored by new problems and new controversies and a more active pursuit of the positive sciences. Provinces opened new mission fields and excellent work was still being done in the older ones. The liberal kings of the Enlightenment, who restricted vocations and closed religious houses, were weakening the Order constantly through their interference, and the intelligentsia were ridiculing the consecrated life and the vows, shaking the confidence of religious in their own vocation, and drying up the sources of new vocations.


Though the Order gave the appearance of strength, the absence of creativity within its ranks, except in some fields of scholarship, indicates a degree of stagnation in the departments of its life. Its theologians and philosophers were engrossed with the age-old controversies with the Scotists and those who upheld the Immaculate Conception, with the inefficacious Protestant polemic and the endless rehashing of the quarrel over grace and free will. These fruitless controversies absorbed the energy of able theologians who might very well have turned creatively to the problems posed by the Enlightenment. In the spirit of Thomas, they might have sifted out the positive elements and harnessed the intellectual, social, and political insights of the rationalistic philosophies for the salvation of men and the good of the Church.


The religious life, closely regulated by the Holy See, manifested no incentive, and, indeed, no awareness that it might be profitable, to explore whether there might not be new ways more in keeping with human dignity, of living the consecrated life. The men of the age could see no need of this, as the present age was unable to see it until the winds of Vatican II began to blow. The Order suffered from the malaise that gripped the whole Catholic body and was shackled, like the Church herself, by the liberal monarchs of the day. Theòeighteenth century was more concerned with the defense and preservation of old things than with the development of new ones. Soon, much of the old would be swept away violently.

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